Celebrating Donegal's built heritage

A new exhibition on the county's traditional dwellings has opened at the Donegal County Museum

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Celebrating Donegal's built heritage

A major new exhibition on Donegal’s traditional dwellings was launched at the Donegal County Museum last week, featuring images from across the county.

“In Search of the Donegal Vernacular Cottage” runs at the county museum, on the High Road in Letterkenny, through September 2nd.

Donegal is home to one of the largest surviving concentrations of vernacular cottages in Ireland.

“As the exhibition demonstrates, vernacular architecture can be thought of as an ‘architecture without architects’ because these dwellings were not based on blueprints or measured drawings but on collective folk memory that was passed down from one generation to the next,” Joseph Gallagher, county heritage officer, said.

He said traditional dwellings help “to define our cultural landscape, refine our sense of place and reinforce our sense of identity” The exhibit uses photographs, illustrations and drawings from local and national collections to detail the distinctive forms and features of the Donegal vernacular cottage.

There are images of dwellings from locations around the county, including Teelin, Crolly, Derryconor, Magheraroarty, Gaoth Dobhair, Gola, Roshine near Dunfanaghy, Ballyhoorisky, Portsalon, Letterkenny, Buncrana, Malin, Culdaff and Cloghan.

In his address at the launch, Cllr. Michael McBride, chairperson of the County Donegal Heritage Forum, said the decline in vernacular architecture is a serious cause of concern. He said the government and building and insurance industries need to address issues of the lack of craftsmen trained in traditional building skills, the difficulty in the availability of traditional building materials and the difficulty of homeowners to obtain thatch insurance or insurance for historic structures as a matter of urgency.

"Otherwise, many more of our traditional dwellings will be lost, undermining our built heritage and cultural landscape as well as missed economic, employment and tourism opportunities," Cllr. McBride said.

The exhibition "In Search of the Donegal Vernacular Cottage" was prepared by the County Heritage Office, County Museum, County Archives and Regional Cultural Centre.

The launch coincided with the Conservation without Frontiers’ Summer School, organised by the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society and Irish Georgian Society in association with the county council, Derry City and Strabane District Council and The Heritage Council, which ran from June 7th-June 10th.

In his address to the summer school last Friday, council Cathoirleach, Cllr. Terence Slowey, said, “Our heritage buildings underpin our tourism industry and it’s important that investment in our built heritage precedes its promotion by the tourism sector.

"The Wild Atlantic Way is greatly enhanced by its built heritage and the stories it tells," the council cathoirleach said. "One of the challenges for the tourism and heritage sectors over the coming years will be to cooperate in order to best conserve and appropriately promote the built heritage of our county.”